The annual #GiveOzarks campaign in Springfield, Missouri, has been a big success, with local nonprofits collectively raising over $1 million each year since its inception in 2015. The online day of giving encourages community members to donate online to their area nonprofit of choice.

Matt Lemmon

Matt Lemmon, CFO’s media director

Matt Lemmon, media director for Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO), heads up the annual #GiveOzarks event in southern Missouri. He shared with #DrurySMS student Mandy Prasad how he wrapped his head around this event to find a way to help nonprofits connect with the community and raise funds through social media.

DrurySMS: #GiveOzarks is a successful social media campaign. Can you tell me some of the basics of #GiveOzarks and what it is?  

Matt: A giving day is the basic term for what #GiveOzarks is. The giving day idea has been going on for five to six years. Some foundations have started them quite a while ago, and they’re really matured. Some foundations have stopped doing giving days.

CFO picked up a giving day up in 2015 for the first year, and this was our second year. Basically it’s a 24-hour online day of giving where one central group – often a foundation like us –provides a platform and a concept for nonprofits to raise money. For example, this May, we had about 225 nonprofits from all over southern Missouri that actually had pages on the giving site and were making efforts to raise funds online that day. What we provide is the training and the website. We make it possible for them, but it’s still on them to design the page and go out and raise the money.

DrurySMS: You’re just giving them the tools.

Matt: Exactly.

DrurySMS: So, it’s only been a couple of years from the first giving day here in the Ozarks. What events or situations led up to the idea or the creation of #GiveOzarks?

Matt: That’s a great question. I guess it’s probably been about six years since CFO really kind of got the idea going, and really it started as most things do, with a very basic need. That basic need was for the foundation and for nonprofits to reach a younger generation of donors and to move beyond the idea that nonprofits can only raise considerable dollars with giant, in-person fundraisers – sort of the gala mentality. Those giant, in-person fundraisers are great, but the need was to try to find something else. We wanted to break the stereotype of fundraising – that major donors could only give by writing a check. This was CFO’s reason that they got into the giving day – they were looking for a way to help their nonprofits achieve that and achieve it for themselves.

So really, the first step towards a giving day was from CFO’s board. In 2011, I think, they officially funded the CFO’s Cause Momentum website, which is sort of like Kickstarter, but for nonprofits. It’s kind of like GoFundMe or Donors Choose. With Cause Momentum, there’s a 45-day period where nonprofits who are affiliated with us can put up a project and try to raise money. That’s kind of the project side of this. We built Cause Momentum out and launched it in early 2013. It’s been successful and is still ongoing. Drury University has actually used Cause Momentum several times. The communication department used Cause Momentum a couple years ago to rehab one of their classrooms.

The investment that CFO put in to Cause Momentum, to build that website, what that allowed us to do – relatively easily – was to build it out just a little more and have the giving day platform. Really, Cause Momentum is the engine that drives #GiveOzarks. It’s all sort of the same website “guts,” with a different module and page that you give through. But, having a giving day was always a goal of CFO. It was always part of that plan – to take our project-based crowdfunding and spin that into a focused 1-day giving effort. …

The first year we raised a little over $1 million. This year we raised almost $1.2 million. More than the dollar growth from year one to year two, what we really wanted was growth in online giving.

One of the nice things about having your own #GiveOzarks platform is that you can take checks before or during the giving day, if that’s the only way donors can give the money. We’re not going to say we can’t take money in the form of a check. Again, since it’s our site, we write our own rules. But we really wanted that online money to increase. Not only online money, but the online donors or number of users. I believe that the number of online gifts – like gifts made to separate organizations – grew 80% from 2015 to 2016, which we were really ecstatic about! It means the message was getting out on social media and that people were grasping the concept and giving online. A full half of that, I would say, was on mobile. This also surprised us, considering the general age of a lot of nonprofit donor base is older in age. So, that was a pleasant surprise.

DrurySMS: What do you think has contributed to the success in #GiveOzarks and the growth from year one to year two?

Matt: The first year, I think, everyone thinks “What is this going to be?” Our president is fond of saying, “You throw a party and just hope that people show up!” Since year one, people showed up and we were ecstatic for them to show up! I think that everyone who participated in year one finally got it. We got it and knew what to expect a little better than the general public. So, through that word-of-mouth and the energy in year one sort of surprised everyone. The social media takeover that #GiveOzarks did in town, particularly in Springfield, but all over the Ozarks was big. I think that was what wetted the appetite for year two, and that’s why the buzz was so heavy this year.

DrurySMS: It’s a fun event!

Matt: It is. It really comes back to the nonprofits doing the promotions. They get really creative and put a lot of work and energy into it. We provide the logo and the umbrella marketing, but it’s the nonprofits that do the legwork. It’s their show. I would say 90% of the nonprofits knock it out of the park when it comes to promoting. They’re the ones that did it.

DrurySMS: How much planning on CFO’s side goes into preparing for #GiveOzarks? And what social media prep are you doing beforehand?

Matt: In year one, 2015, we developed the hashtag and logo, and we made sure that things would fit in Instagram and all of that. When it comes to social media, I feel like there’s a pretty good playbook for what needs to be ready ahead of time, and I’ll come back to that in a little.

We have a five-person committee here in the office that starts meeting pretty much year-round, but we’ll start meeting really seriously in October, and every week typically, for the next year’s #GiveOzarks. I’m working on website changes now. Mostly Serious in downtown Springfield, they are the developers for the site, and they’re awesome. I’m working with them now on things that we want changed for the next go-around. …

We’re 2½ months out from the last event, which is almost a quarter of the year, which is terrifying. You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball year-round. We finished distributions in early June, and nonprofits are just now seeing their statements from #GiveOzarks 2016. That’s all part of it. By the first of the year, we’ll be meeting weekly for an hour or two and then in the month leading up to #GiveOzarks, it’s almost all that we do. Especially technical help and getting their websites made. That’s my job almost 40 or more hours a week. It becomes almost my entire focus leading up to the day. So lots of preparation, and it’s an intensive thing for us, but it is intensive for the nonprofits, too, when they do it right. They put in a lot of time and a lot of work. …

Social media, one of the things we had to keep an eye on that we did a better job of in year two was not getting too far ahead, like using the hashtag and using the logo. If you start hammering something in early February and for a May 3 event, people are going to be sick of it by May. We’re not prescriptive about anything on social media, but we give some guidelines to the nonprofits.

We didn’t really kick our stuff in until a month before the event. That’s when we really wanted people to start taking notice. I developed some Instagram memes and make sure they were square. I guess that doesn’t matter now as much as it used to. But I’m making things that we can hand to the nonprofits if they need it and if they don’t want to develop on their own, so that they can still promote the day.

It’s comjng. #GiveOzarks

A photo posted by CFO (@cfozarks) on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:18pm PST

DrurySMS: What nonprofits have you seen succeed with #GiveOzarks and why do you think they were successful? What did they do right?

Matt: Planning. Knowing when they’re going to promote something and having some creativity behind it. We’ve had some best practices from 2015 as training for this year’s event from groups that were really successful in year one. Isabel’s House presented and did a great job. Moxie Cinema always does a really great job with their promotions. …

This year, the Springfield Art Museum really got into it and did the #SaveTheFrenchFries thing and had people go out to that sculpture out on National Avenue. They did a really great job on promoting that. Arc of the Ozarks did a swing-a-thon, where someone was on one of their swings for the full 24 hours of #GiveOzarks. You know, it doesn’t have to be something that costs a bunch of money, just something creative that looks good on social media and that people can get into.

So planning for promotion is the first step. The second step is engaging your existing donor base. A lot of people think that if they throw up a page, people are going to find it on Google apropos of nothing, and that’s not the case. Nonprofits really have to engage your existing donor base and then once they’re engaged, they’re the ambassadors, and they reach people the nonprofit has never met before. What the site allows is to make it very easy to go viral – to be shared and reach people. So having a marketing plan and a donor engagement plan are the two indispensable steps.

DrurySMS: Great. Have you seen any nonprofit organizations who used in-person events to connect with the digital fundraising, and how has that helped or hindered them? What would you suggest – that they solely focus digital or do both?

Matt: We don’t discourage anything. If a nonprofit has the ability to pull off an in-person event, we say go for it. If they don’t have the ability, it’s a waste of time. Looking at it critically, nonprofits have to think, “Is this something that is really going to benefit our efforts, or would we be better off just focusing on email?” It’s all on the allocation of resources, and I would say that with year two, the nonprofits got it.

And one of the other things that was really good was some of our regional hubs like in Lake of the Ozarks, in Carthage, in Joplin, and in Marshfield particularly, all the nonprofits got together and threw an event. It was kind of like a little #GiveOzarks event, and all of them got together and people came. So, working together can really pay off, too.

The idea that they had is, “Once people come, we’ll give them an iPad to donate online.” We’ve seen varying degrees of success with that idea. People have to login, create an account, and sometimes that’s more successful than others – sort of the “donation station” thought. That being said, events can be a really great way to get attention and get people to give.

Arc of the Ozarks #GiveOzarks 2016. Photo credit: Aaron J. Scott.

Arc of the Ozarks hosted a live 24-hour swing-a-thon event as part of #GiveOzarks 2016. Photo credit: Aaron J. Scott.

DrurySMS: How can nonprofit organizations be best prepared for #GiveOzarks?

Matt: They should engage with CFO now because we’re going to start our communications on #GiveOzarks 2017 probably in October 2016, if not before October. I would guess we’ll have an announcement about the day in 2017 before the end of 2016. Then, in the beginning of 2017, things really start moving fast. So if you’re a nonprofit organization, engage with us now and let us know that you want to participate and we’ll get you on mailing lists. If you have participated in the past, we hope you’ve already looked at how this year went, what you can do different, and what your goals are for the next year. Just engage.

DrurySMS: Engage, learn, grow and improve.

Matt: Exactly. That’s what you have to do.

DrurySMS: Do you have any last thoughts or advice for social-media professionals or nonprofit organizations on how to create and maintain a great social-media campaign?

Matt: Be authentic, be creative, have a voice, and stick with it. That requires a team approach, so know who you are, know who your donors are, and have fun with it. That’s the whole point of #GiveOzarks – is to make it fun and make people want to give. I think any social media campaign needs to – particularly with #GiveOzarks – needs to reflect that. And tell your story. Tell your individual story because that’s why people are going to give.

(Photo credit for the featured blog post image of the #SaveTheFrenchFries event also goes to Aaron J. Scott.)

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